Here we are talking open rates. It’s easy to obsess over them, and they matter. A lot.

The two most important factors for driving open rates are subject lines and list hygiene. This article focuses on subject lines; then we’ll chat a little about keeping your lists clean and up to date.

What makes a good subject line? It needs to stand out.

I get a lot of newsletters, and I filter them to folders by category. Here’s a snapshot of emails I received in just the last few hours to my general interest folder:

What stands out to you?

Most people say, “the emoji.” Inboxes are generally vast fields of black and white; emojis add a splash of color that draws the eye.

Other things I notice are short, direct subject lines, unusual punctuation like quotation marks and, though there’s no good examples here, things that lack so much context that they feel mysterious. NY1 just sent me an email with the subject line “Not 💯% sure” and I 💯% want to know what the heck they’re talking about.

Here are some quick pointers:

  • Keep it short. 65 characters or less
  • Use compelling language, unconventional formats
  • Consider emojis
  • Punctuation?
  • Play on people’s curiosity or FOMO, or make a promise to help them (and deliver!)
  • Experiment to know what resonates

That last point is the most important. A really good subject line is one that speaks to your audience, and every audience is different. The best measure we have of subject line quality is if people are opening the emails, so you can always be refining your approach by benchmarking against yourself and trying to get better.

How to do that? Look at the open rates of your emails over the last 30 days. You can do that in ActiveCampaign by going to Reports > Campaigns Performance and setting the timeframe. Calculate the average of those 30 days, and document it somewhere.

Next, start using Split Testing to try different subject lines. I did it for this email, and it took all of 45 seconds to add a second subject line. First, when creating the campaign, choose “Split testing”:

Then, when setting the subject line, you can add another option to test against:

Finally, just before you send or schedule your email on ActiveCampaign’s summary screen, scroll to the bottom and set the options for the split test.

Below are the settings I used for this email, which sent each subject line to 10% of my list, waited an hour to see which had a higher open rate, then sent the winner to the remaining 80%.

For your experiment, use one subject line that sticks to your normal format and another subject line that tries something new: an emoji, keeping it short, being cute and clever. Or try short versus long. Or this versus that.

Just whatever you do, keep doing that format comparison for 30 days and see if the results of the split testing are consistent, and if overall you’ve improved on your benchmark. If not, try testing something else. Why 30 days? One email won’t give you enough insight to set strategy, but entire month’s worth of data should.

Need help with this? Email and we’ll set up a training session for your team.

This topic surfaced because of a question a BlueLena client asked in our Slack space. If you’re a BlueLena client and not in the BlueLena Slack yet, email me and we’ll get you added ASAP.